RFA President: ‘Don’t Just Celebrate Women Journalists, Support Them’

RFA President: ‘Don’t Just Celebrate Women Journalists, Support Them’ RFA celebrates its women journalists on International Women's Day. Illustration by Rebel Pepper.
Photo: RFA

WASHINGTON -- On International Women’s Day, Radio Free Asia (RFA) President Bay Fang celebrates the impactful contributions of RFA’s women journalists, while underscoring ways to support those currently working and future generations in the field. In a piece published on LinkedIn, “Don’t Just Celebrate Women Journalists, Support Them,” Fang writes, “As RFA celebrates the 25th anniversary of its first broadcast this year, I look back with pride on the work we've done to amplify women's voices, in front of the camera and behind it, and think ahead to what more we can do … to achieve greater equity in our field for years to come.

Full text of Fang’s article runs below.

Don’t Just Celebrate Women Journalists, Support Them

This International Women’s Day, we recognize and celebrate the women who inspire us. The field of journalism is replete with examples of courageous female correspondents, but today I want to pay tribute to one of my personal heroines, Marie Colvin of the Sunday Times, who was killed in Syria in 2012. We met covering the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq but became friends much later, when I was on a journalism fellowship at Oxford and she brought me into her London circle without question, embracing me simply because she recognized the importance of supporting a fellow female correspondent. I had always found her courage and dedication to the pursuit of truth inspiring, but what influenced me even more was this spirit of generosity and inclusion. 

I am reminded of her qualities every day when I see the fearless women journalists at Radio Free Asia, the media organization I lead. Last month RFA Burmese editor Aye Aye Mon became a viral sensation online for her tough line of questioning of the Myanmar military regime after the coup. Video on Facebook of Aye Aye stepping up to the mic and demanding answers from the junta’s spokesman about the detention of elected officials from Aung San Suu Kyi’s party and the military’s use of deadly force against demonstrators, including a young woman who was among the first to die from injuries, was viewed almost 5 million times the first day it was posted. Thousands praised her for bravery exhibited at a crucial moment, leaving comments like, “Respect, sister!” 

Aye Aye is just one of the many examples of brave women reporters at RFA. They include Uyghur service reporter Gulchehra Hoja, who spearheaded reporting on the “orphaned” children of Uyghur detainees in Xinjiang and won an International Women’s Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award in 2020; Rigdhen Dolma of the Tibetan Service, who spotlights Tibetan women leaders and role models in the global diaspora on her popular weekly program; and Hanh Seide, deputy director of RFA Vietnamese, who has helped transform the service into a social media heavyweight. Hanh went to Hanoi in 2019 for the U.S.-North Korea summit and was the first to reveal that authorities had confined Vietnamese human rights activists and bloggers to their homes -- an exclusive cited by Reporters Without Borders.

Telling Women’s Stories 

They and their colleagues help bring credible journalism to our audiences, offering an alternative to the disinformation proffered by their governments. The stories we cover also shine a light on the key role of women in world events, often missed in history books. An award-winning Mandarin documentary highlights the efforts of the wives of jailed Chinese legal advocates to obtain their husbands’ freedom. The Vietnamese service obtains an exclusive interview with the widow of a Vietnamese community leader slain during the Dong Tam land protests, who petitioned the state over her husband’s death. RFA Burmese leads the world in exposing the Myanmar military’s sexual violence against Rohingya women. Our reporting also examines the important role women are playing in the Myanmar anti-coup demonstrations, and profiles rising figures such as Hong Kong pro-democracy leader Agnes Chow, who is currently serving a seven-month sentence for her involvement in the 2019 protests. These stories are often driven by women in the newsroom and out on assignment. 

Supporting Women in Journalism

In recognizing these remarkable women who #choosetochallenge, speaking truth to power not only from RFA’s platforms but other media around the world, it’s also important to consider ways we can encourage them as well as aspiring journalists at the start of their careers. This means rewarding talented women journalists with choice assignments and fair compensation. It also means promoting women to decision-making and editorial leadership roles, while making sure to provide ample opportunities for professional growth and training. 

For media sector employers, we bear the additional responsibility of ensuring a safe workplace for all. We must take concrete steps to prevent and address harassment and threats against women, who are disproportionately targeted, especially on digital platforms. A survey by the Committee to Protect Journalists in 2019 found that 90 percent of women and gender-nonconforming journalists in the United States described online harassment as the biggest threat they face, with half the respondents saying they had dealt with it during their careers. This abuse is by no means unique to the U.S. - it can take on more ominous forms in countries where basic freedoms are not respected, and journalists can face retribution from extremist groups, their own governments, or simply those who feel challenged by their reporting. The tragic news this month about the murder of three women journalists working for a local outlet in Afghanistan is a severe reminder of the consequences women sometimes uniquely face in high-threat environments. 

Admiration Matched by Action

These issues are rife in RFA’s markets in Asia, where human rights and the freedom of expression are constantly under fire. The takeaway in all these instances is clear: unless we adjust to meet the challenges of this stark reality -- to be more vigilant and to implement needed safeguards for our women journalists -- we risk losing voices that are already underrepresented. We also risk losing stories that matter to our audiences. That’s an unacceptable outcome. While we celebrate journalism’s history makers, it’s equally important to empower those who are reporting on history in the making.

As RFA celebrates the 25th anniversary of its first broadcast this year, I look back with pride on the work we've done to amplify women's voices, in front of the camera and behind it, and think ahead to what more we can do - in the spirit of my friend Marie - to achieve greater equity in our field for years to come. 

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